The opening piano peal sends us back to the '60s (Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200!) to the Summer of Love, with which the song shares its spirit. Like my favorite paean to forbearance and understanding, X's "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts," this little ditty by The Submarines proffers self-indictment while nudging us in a more constructive direction. Call it the Mid-Autumn of Hope, but like convicts preparing for a long sentence, the country's suddenly gotten religion about our over-consumptive ways. This song couldn't have arrived at a better time.
Sugar-throated blondie Blake Hazard opens with a mea culpa: With all we have, "It's too easy just to fall apart." Handclaps and glockenspiel chase any dark hearts away, as the sunny indie-pop bounce eases down the medicine. Careening off into a candied garage-psych verse, Hazard pulls off the gloves: "It's time to be so brutally honest about the way we know we long for something fine." While some quarrel with the mix of politics and music, The Submarines seem to catch the spirit of collective guilt with its laundry list of everyday decadence—"plastic bottles, imported water/ Cars we drive wherever we want to/ Clothes we buy/ It's sweatshop labor/ Drugs from corporate enablers." Hazard's vocals float with girl-group airiness, swelling into an ahh-ing choir for the break. It closes by repeating the chorus several times, suggesting the day-at-a-time strategy almost necessary for changing bad habits to stave off long-term disaster.
We caught up with Hazard in California, where she and hubby John Dragonetti (aka singer/songwriter Jack Drag) live. They formed the Submarines in the wake of their boy-gets-girl-loses-girl-gets-girl-back drama that was the backdrop to the 2006 debut, Declare a New State!. They followed that up last May with the brighter-toned Honeysuckle Weeks.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Are we spoiled as Americans?
BLAKE HAZARD: I think we are honestly. I was just listening to this radio report with a number of people who had lived through the Depression, and the BBC interviewer asked did they think that our generation was ready to endure another depression like the one they faced and they said, "Absolutely not." Our Generation is so spoiled. [Laughs.] I have to admit, that has to be true. There are so many conveniences that we have now that we didn't have even when we were kids. Sometimes you forget how did we ever get along without cell phones or bottled water, or all these things that are so ubiquitous to us now. They are luxuries, and we look at them as if they're rights. I think things may change soon. We'll see, with this new economy.
Being in California, which is perhaps more green than the East Coast, do you think you're more aware of that you might be otherwise?
Gosh no. Do you mean green in the sense of environmentally conscious?
Yes. Just seems California is addressing the environment a little more.
Well, I grew up in Vermont, so it doesn't get much greener. [Laughs.] So to me the East Coast doesn't seem any less green in my mind, because I really grew up with a lot of environmental consciousness. And I actually went to high school on a working farm, si I was very aware of environmental issues from an early age. Then I went to college in New York, and there were no recycling bins. This was before they were everywhere, and I was shocked: "Doesn't everyone know that there's so much work to do?"
It was great to see those issues come to the fore in the last few years. I just really hope that eco-trends don't die out because I worry anything trendy has a downside. That people lose focus, lose attention. I hope with our new president—I feel totally optimistic that he's got this on his agenda, and I feel he's already making all these great moves in the right direction. Hopefully we'll keep on keeping on, but you worry that the economy is so bad the people will just want to save money and not care as much about those things because a lot of those alternatives are more expensive. As people go to Costco and Wal-Mart ... I worry and hope people will keep that attitude. We'll see.
I remember when Gordon Gekko said, "Greed is good." Is guilt good?
No, I don't think guilt is very helpful, but I guess it helps us to govern ourselves somewhat. But I think the song to me is more about positivity, not about feeling bad about what you do, but recognizing what you do. In the song, I'm very much implicating myself in taking part in those things. We do drive all over to tour. We do burn lots of fuel to do this. Hopefully, I've kept it from being preachy because I've implicated myself. It's just the cycle we're in. It's like that expression, "I wouldn't want to join a revolution you can't dance to." I think it really has to be about what makes you feel good about it, to help you continue with it. You don't want to feel like you're suddenly depriving yourself in ways that feel really uncomfortable because then the changes you make will endure. I don't think it has to be about feeling bad about what you're doing. It just has to be about feeling you can change and doing simple things to have a positive effect.
What prompted the song? Are you particularly politically minded, or did it just kind of come out?
Oh yeah, definitely, I'm very politically minded. John and I are very interested in what's going on in the world right now. There's so much change and so much conflict and trouble. I did want to write a political song, but without being preachy or like I have any of the answers. I don't feel I necessarily do, but the one thing I feel I know is that love is at the center of what's good. And certainly some change in the right direction comes out of that. Ultimately I think it's sort of a love song at the same time that it's a sort of anti- consumerist/materialist rant. I think it's really about love and positivity.
How does Silver Lake, Cal. rate on the bourgeoisie scale?
The bohemian bourgeois is in full-effect here: $5 coffees, people looking like they just fell out of bed, but they probably spent 2 hours and lots of money to look like that. That's in full effect, and we definitely are having fun with that crowd with the song too.
There are a lot of musicians out there. Have you forged friendships with people like ex-Beantowner Lou Barlow?
There are definitely a lot of former Boston musicians living out here, who we are still in close contact with. Some people call it the Boston mafia. Most of the people we hang out with here are either artists or musicians. We actually moved out of Silver Lake. It got really expensive and a little yuppiefied. We moved just northeast a little like a lot of people we know, to Highland Park and Eagle Rock. Just a little northeast of Silver Lake and Echo Park. A lot of those people are living right around us.
What' s your perspective on the idea that people move to L.A. and their relationships flag?
I hadn't heard that when we moved out here, so it wasn't any self-fulfilling prophecy— that we though about that before we moved out her, and then we broke up. It was very much about the time in our lives, and I don't think it had to do with moving here specifically. Moving to California was such a good thing for me and John. The fact that it took a toll on our relationship or whatever the circumstances were at the time took a toll on the relationship ... I don't think it had to do specifically with moving to L.A. We didn't move out here and suddenly become different people, or had these incredible differences because of all these huge changes. I think it just had to do more with where we were in our relationship at the time.
You were both fairly successful solo artists before this. How much is there a desire for space because on the road it's even more in your face.
I think it is nice when we're home, we do have more independence. John works on soundtracks for movies and TV. He just did a movie called Surfwise that was a really interesting documentary about surfing. So that was really cool. He does his thing independently and then I make art as well—visual art—and am able to do that when we're home. And I'm working on a solo album as well. So we still have a lot going on independent of each other. But when we're on the road, it's true, we have this singular focus. So it's nice to diffuse that when we get home, we've got our own projects.
What's with the addition of a drummer for the new album?
We were ready to step it up with our live show, and I think there's a lot more energy and the dynamics are greater on stage. It's been really fun having a third person on-tage and also there on tour, to just kind of be more of a—not to just be so intensely just the two of us. [Laughs.] It's really nice to add to that dynamic. It kind of keeps us in check with each other on the road. We don't want to be this bickering duo. [Laughs.]
Honeysuckle Weeks, almost by necessity, has a different tone than the last album. Could you tell me about how it took its shape?
We mostly wrote and recorded the album over the course of last summer, so it was kind of the honeysuckle weeks, though it's actually the name of a British actress. We just saw her name in the credits one night from something we were watching and thought it was the most charming name ever. And it kind of reflects the summery feeling we were having. The album and the move away from that inward and downward feeling of the first album because of the circumstances under which it was written. It was time to look up and out. And the summertime definitely helped move that along. We moved from the East Coast and like spending time surrounded by trees, and it felt more like this summer in the garden making songs. It felt much lighter. After the experience of writing and recording the first record, we were ready to have a good time basically.
The Submarines plays Local 506 Saturday, Feb. 7, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets for the 9:30 p.m. show are $8-$10.